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How to Use Apple's Newest Freeform App

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Freeform used on iPhone, iPad and Mac

Freeform works on mobile and desktop.
Photo: Apple

Apple released a whole new app, which doesn’t happen often: Freeform is now available for iOS 16.2, iPadOS 16.2 or macOS Ventura 13.1, and is described as a “flexible canvas” that you can use pretty much however you see fit. The focus is on sharing and collaboration, but you can use Freeform, essentially a blank digital whiteboard, alone or in a group.

Here, we’ll walk you through some of the basics of Freeform, to give you an idea of ​​what the app is capable of and the different ways you could use it. The interface is laid out slightly differently on phones and tablets compared to desktop, and there are extras like Apple Pencil support, but Apple has worked hard to make the Freeform experience very similar no matter what device you’re on.

Freeform Basics

Freeform screenshot

Freeform offers a library of shapes to use.
screenshot: free form

Open Freeform for the first time, and you’ll be faced with a slightly intimidating mass of white space, just waiting for your input. Freeform canvas can combine text, images, videos, audio clips, web links, shapes, sticky notes, map locations, documents and more, organized in the way you prefer, and you can of course create as many pages as you like—there’s no shortage of paper.

Freeform is incredibly intuitive and versatile. You can simply drag a file from the Finder on macOS, for example, which can then be quickly previewed with a double-click. Videos and audio play directly in the app, so you don’t have to switch screens or wait for something to load. Each element can be moved, resized and rotated, and superimposed on other objects.

Freeform screenshot

You can drop links, videos, images and more.
screenshot: free form

Apple has rolled out built-in alignment guides (shown on screen as gray dots), so your tables don’t look too chaotic, and some elements can be locked in place if needed (especially useful if you’re starting to invite others to share your Freeform ).creations). Tables can expand to be as large as you want, so you’ll never run out of space, and there are easy-to-use zoom and selection tools included, too.

If you’re on an iPad or iPhone, you have access to more drawing tools: those free-form pens and brushes are not available on macOS, and you can use your finger or an Apple Pencil to create your scribbles. It’s a shame that these drawing options aren’t available on the Mac, although without a touchscreen, maybe that’s understandable – you can of course still see these drawings if you’re using the desktop app; you simply cannot create them.

Use Freeform to collaborate

Freeform screenshot

You can easily team up with other people.
screenshot: free form

Collaboration is one of Freeform’s strengths, and you can invite up to 99 other people to work with you on a board. This takes the potential of the app up a notch: you can use it for anything, from deciding your business strategy over the next 12 months with dozens of colleagues, to planning a wedding with a few close friends and relatives. Everyone has access to the same features and tools, and you can highlight every contributor in real time with color-coded sliders if you want.

To invite someone else to your Freeform board, you use the tried and trusted sharing option. All you have to do is choose the people you would like to work with. Changes are synced and displayed in real time, and you can change who has access to your Freeform tables whenever you want. The navigation pane gives you access to your recent boards, your shared boards, your favorite boards, and a list of all your boards.

Freeform screenshot

You can link FaceTime calls to whiteboard collaborators.
screenshot: free form

As you can imagine, Freeform works very well and perfectly with other Apple software. For example, you can drag a Freeform board into a conversation in Messages to instantly invite everyone in that thread to collaborate. Activity updates on the board will be posted to the same conversation thread, so you can see who’s doing what without necessarily switching between apps.

If you prefer face-to-face interaction, maybe the canvas just got old too chaotic and need to impose a little order: you can launch a FaceTime call between all the collaborators of a board, with video boxes appearing in the corner of the screen to keep an eye on your digital web in same time. When it comes to exporting your tables, they can be saved in PDF format and sent to other applications if needed.

The possibilities of Freeform

Freeform screenshot

Freeform already offers many features.
screenshot: free form

We like the flexibility and ease of use that Freeform offers: it’s not the most innovative of apps (many features are duplicated in Apple Notes, for example), but its appeal lies in its non-restriction. most of the time, it works, as with most Apple applicationsand it can perform an impressive number of tasks (like media playback) without any extra help.

That said, it’s a work in progress. It’s not always obvious how to do something, like rotate or layer, and the macOS app is currently clumsier than the mobile versions. Freeform works best with an iPad and Apple Pencil, which is how we think most people will use it. There is clearly room for improvement, and if you are already happy with another digital whiteboard app, Freeform may not have enough for to convince you to change.

Freeform screenshot

Freeform currently works best on an iPad.
Image: Apple

The ways you can use Freeform are nearly endless, whether it’s planning the structure of a video game you’re working on, just trying to remember what you need to buy at the grocery store, working on offensive plays for a basketball team, or just doodle and play with creative ideas in the hope that inspiration will strike.

What you might not know is that Google offers something similar in the form of Google Dashboard, one of the company’s lesser-known products. Many of the same features are included, plus a few extras: you can combine text, images and sticky notes, for example, and there’s even a virtual laser pointer. It integrates nicely with other Google products (like Google Meet), but for now it looks like Apple’s product is slightly more advanced and more useful as a whiteboard tool.

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